Charlotte Day Wilson is unexpected. With her calm, almost timid demeanor, equally unassuming aesthetic and German-Icelandic roots, Wilson occupies a lane distinct from most burgeoning R&B stars and often allows her soulful music to be the center of attention. Wilson’s sound fills a space entirely its own, setting up the Toronto-born songwriter as one of this year’s most promising up-and-coming R&B acts — in line with a recent legacy of Canadian excellence.
In the past few years, Wilson has checked off boxes that most independent artists only dream of: a Billboard chart position, alongside Kaytranada for “What You Need”; collaborations with Syd, James Blake and Daniel Caesar; a single, “Work,” reaching 100 million streams across platforms; and late night performances including The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and The Late Late Show with James Corden. And while those feats are impressive, what is perhaps most striking about Wilson doesn’t involve her voice, but rather her production.
“The thing that I consider myself, as more than a singer, is a producer,” says Wilson, who is braving a New York City heat wave after accompanying a friend on a cross-country drive, to Billboard. “That’s the thing I’m gonna start shoving down people’s throats a bit more so that they understand that I’m producing all of [my] music.”
Along with the most recent song releases ahead of her debut album, ALPHA, Wilson is increasingly vocal regarding her own identity as a queer woman, and channeling her art as a way to center the LGBTQ+ community. The visual for Wilson’s latest single, “Keep Moving,” spotlights queer and trans people dancing, riding motorcycles, loving and existing unapologetically.
“Having Tynomi Banks, a Canada’s Drag Race alumna who is so unabashedly proud and comfortable in their identity; Dykes on Bikes, too,” explains Wilson. “They’re so empowered in themselves, and seeing that empowers other LGBTQIA+ people too.”
Wilson was set to release ALPHA last year, but when the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world, plans changed. “It was a blessing in disguise,” says the ever-positive Wilson. “I realized that [the album] wasn’t done before.” With an extra year of fine-tuning, Wilson will release ALPHA on July 9.
The unsigned multihyphenate spoke with Billboard about creating safe spaces as a female producer, embracing her identity through her artistry and where her soulful voice comes from.
There’s a lot of soul and emotion in your voice, to the point where people are surprised when they actually see you. Where does that come from?
When I was growing up my dad played majority Black music. We had those conversations in the house [and] he’d be like, “Black music is the best music.” My favorite stuff was Motown, Aretha [Franklin], and the old soul music. I love a lot of other kinds of music, too. So it’s a hard question to answer, because I don’t know where my voice comes from. It’s just an amalgamation of a whole lifetime of loving soul music, R&B and folk.
Your lyrics are so rich with imagery. What’s your songwriting process like?
It sounds kind of hokey, but I don’t have an answer because it feels like I’m a vessel for things to flow through and I’m not necessarily thinking about how things should sound or what I’m trying to say. It’s strange because I’m kind of a quiet person. I really don’t like public speaking; words aren’t always my friend. And then when I’m singing, for some reason I find that clarity when I’m mixing words with melodies. I find that I’m able to communicate ideas that I can’t communicate without music.
So you’re just freestyling a lot of it? That’s crazy.
Yeah, pretty much all of it.
What musicians or albums influence you the most as an artist?
I’m heavily influenced by 90s and early 2000s R&B. I feel like I shouldn’t say it, and I acknowledge how problematic Chris Brown is, but when I was a kid, his first three albums were my s–t. That’s what I came up on. The music is in me.
Something people may not know is that you produce all of your own music, and want to produce for others, too. What’s it like navigating that as a woman? What do you hope to bring to your sessions with other women?
When I’m working with another [woman] artist, and helping them produce, I’m so aware of all of my experiences with men who haven’t made the space feel welcoming or comfortable. In sessions where men don’t know that I play instruments well, and that I produce, I enter with my back against the wall already. I feel like I have something to prove and ultimately, that’s because of [those] bad experiences. I talk about the softwares and plugins and which ones I think you should use on my voice just to prove something. It’s a psychological process, because you’re aware of how someone might be perceiving you in that moment. At the same time, you’re trying to come off as sweet.
It’s just this crazy balancing act that we do as women in every space. It’s exhausting. It’s not conducive to creating art. So, when I’m working with other women, my number one priority is making sure that the artist feels super comfortable and that I’m paying them the utmost attention and every little bit of the process is sensitive and careful. That’s something that as women we do naturally and want to translate into these creative spaces. It’s super conducive to making art, because the space just has to feel really safe.
What’s been your favorite collaboration you’ve done lately?
I think the coolest one recently was James Blake; he interpolated my song “Falling Apart.” That was really cool because I’m a diehard fan. James thought it was some old soul record and then he found out it was my song. When I heard his voice singing my like melodies and lyrics, it was like an out-of-body experience.
Your recent single “Keep Moving” is accompanied by a really compelling visual. What’s the inspiration behind the track?
“Keep Moving” reflects the strength and resilience in going forward; letting go to focus on what’s in the future. I think it’s hard to find who you are, find pride in yourself with a focus on everything in the past that hurt. That fearless representation is integral, to me, to my queer friends, everyone, and helps us all move forward in our own journeys to find pride.
What’s it been like being more open about your sexual identity during the last few years?
[Before] I wasn’t quite as comfortable or confident in my identity as a queer woman. I also didn’t want to pigeonhole myself as just that earlier on in my career. I wanted to be perceived as just an artist, neutrally in some way. Now that I’m a little bit older, more confident and more established as an artist, I think it’s an important thing for me to tell those stories, to be open about who I’m singing about and use those pronouns. I think the queer community loves it. I don’t know how the straights feel about it. I haven’t really consulted them. [laughs]
You’ve been independent from the start, and that decision seems intentional. Would you ever sign to a label?
Coming from Toronto, there’s definitely an independent mentality. The labels that I’ve spoken to, there’s been a lot and some really great labels in like, the ones that I would if I were to ever do a deal with, they have approached me, but I have a really strong team I’ve built up around me that I feel is really capable of doing what I want to do, and achieving the goals that I have without having to sign a major label deal at this point in my career.
Do you have any advice for emerging independent artists?
There’s so much you can do on a budget. I think the best art comes from a place where there isn’t tons of money flowing in and out. That’s a stage of one’s career that one should really soak in because of that independence, that creative freedom, and not having tons of pressure from outside parties. My advice would be to enjoy that part of the process.
What can you tell us about your debut album, ALPHA?
This album is my baby. I really took my time with it. I was planning on putting it out a year ago. When the pandemic happened, it put a wrench in that plan. But it was a blessing in disguise, because it gave me almost a full extra year to work on the music. And as I continued to work on it, I realized that it wasn’t done before. It’s not one of those like chicken and egg situations where it’s never done. I knew it at a certain point, it was done. It’s deeply personal. I talk about certain things that I only talked to my therapist and closest friends about. It’s me and my life and love and longing that has been my life over the past three years.
What’s next for Charlotte Day Wilson?
My goals definitely are to continue making my own music, but a big thing that I’m getting into is producing for other people. That’s the most exciting thing for me. I really, really love doing it. It’s something I’m going to spend a good amount of time next year doing.